Welcome to our blog! Taryn's an old pro based on her practice blogging in India, and Kraemer has had to report on his ridiculous amount of world traveling to so many friends and family that blogging is really just second nature. No, but really, we do hope you find an entry or two entertaining. Otherwise, this is just our way to let our parents know that we're still alive and kicking, even on the continent of Africa.

As a disclaimer, though this is written in tandem, please recognize that some things would only come out of Kraemer's mouth. :)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Accident

It just wouldn't be a trip to a foreign country if I didn't have some sort of undesirable encounter with a vehicle.

In one of my earlier posts I reference my white-knuckle trip north to Belin. What scared me was people's judgment, or lack thereof. The general rule is, "Pass if you want to." Big scary bend? No problem. Oncoming traffic? Heck, they'll get out of MY way. Solid white line? That's just a suggestion. (Not that the lines are always there anyway.)

In this instance, I was feeling pretty good about my ride. We were coming back from our site visit to Gorongosa. The driver was from Chimoio, so this was his turf, and he worked for an international development firm, which for some reason made me more confident in his driving abilities (don't ask me where the logic is there). But all around cool, calm, responsible guy.

The problem, as I mentioned earlier, was the OTHER guys. It was dusk, we were on a two-lane highway approaching a big ol' semi chugging past another semi (read: in our lane) as it was coming up a hill, around a bend (see? judgment issues) and would have hit that brother head on. So, our driver calmly pulls completely off the road and comes to a stop - it wasn't going to be a good idea to drive at high speeds on the barely-there margin.

Crazy chapa driver man behind us was either not too bright or going way too fast and didn't make the move in time. Instead, he DID slam head on into the semi and spiraled into our parked car, which promptly slid down the embankment. At first I didn't realize what had happened - had we hit the truck? I just prayed we didn't start to roll. We all had on seatbelts and fortunately the car stayed upright. I walked away intact with only a headache.

Chapa folks weren't so lucky. First of all, as usual, they were packed in like sardines. All those people there? That times two, that's what filed out. The little kids were wailing. A man covered in blood was laying motionless on the sidewalk. The men were busy tugging luggage out of the front of the chapa so that they could get to the driver, who was wedged between the crushed metal frame.

We waited around for an hour or so before a friend of our driver's came to pick me and the other TDYer up. Our and his colleague stayed on. The police had arrived and were directing traffic around the scene, and some of the onlookers helped flag down a pick-up where they lifted the unconscious into the bed of the truck - an ambulance was out of the question. I have no idea how they made out. Chapa riders had begun to start the long walk to who knows where.

We eventually made it to the hotel, where they couldn't find our reservation. Go figure.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cape Town, I love you!!!

Even though I'd been hoping to take a long trip while here, I wasn't sure whether I could swing the vacation time. But Kraemer gets antsy. We tossed around the idea of Madagascar, but it never really grabbed me, and when we found out that it's nearly just as expensive to fly there from here as it is from Washington (eh, and that bit about political strife), it got the ax.

Enter Cape Town.

YAY! Amazing!! Worth every penny!! I would LIVE there. Are you grasping my excitement here? Mom, you would like this.

There's no way to fit everything in in a week, but we sure gave it a shot. We visited the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which are gargantuan, and I'd be out there every afternoon reading if I lived here. Gorgeous, blue Table Mountain framed by bright white clouds; a trickling stream hidden amongst leafy, green rain forest; endless exotic flowers = awesome. The first flower we walked past was with Mandela's Gold, a Bird of Paradise they spent 20 years + perfecting.

Of course, I could never leave Cape Town without visiting wine country, so we spent an afternoon ... at only two wineries. Hey, don't drink and drive, folks. We had to limit ourselves. But we were so enamored by one that we bought a case. Mostly pinotage, but it even included a port (which Kraemer typically despises) and two whites. If only they sold it somewhere in the U.S. other than California. Maybe that's where I should move. I love wine country.

The mountains, the vineyards, the country roads, the open sky and brilliant evenings..... Anyway. I would recommend Delheim to anyone. I might even get it shipped to me. The one right before it - Murati, just in case you go, was cool-looking, their windows covered in cobwebs and the rooms stalked with heirlooms, but their wine was forgettable.

We went on the recommendation of a lovely woman (and her hubby) that we'd met while eating lunch at Olympia Cafe in Kalk Bay. Pretty sure it used to be a dry town back in the day; something about the king not wanting to have to deal with a bunch of drunk sailors. Makes sense. This was the cutest, quaintest little harbor town I've ever seen. The shops ran the gamut and were all adorable, little antique shops, art galleries, shops with vintage clothing, ice cream and gelato shops, shops, shops, shops, all right on the water, watching the boats come in.

Olympia's was divine. Fresh bread. Fresh juice. Heavy pour on our second glass of wine, to share. Our waitress was sweet. I had a scrumptious seafood pasta dish (I'm always looking for one done in red sauce and not cream!) and Kraemer inhaled his fish. We were seated out back, with walls of cracked stones and gems, and a little picnic table further out back (that was sucking down some good-looking mimosas with fresh orange juice). Kraemer made me leave early because we were there forever, and there was no way I should be eating all the mousse they gave me for dessert.

The V&A Waterfront, while as much as I want to call it a big mall, is really than just a big mall - it's on the harbor, and - featured once again - Table Mountain is lit up with spectacular blue lights in the background. (We climbed Table Mountain ... and took the cable car back down.) We ate at a good Thai spot, Wang Thai; twice, in fact, as the second time we really just were in search of ANY place that served a drink where we could sit and watch the semifinals. Actually made a killer spicy martini.

And while we're talking drinks: has anyone else discovered Appletisers? Only after I looked at their website did I realize they have flavors other than apple, grape and pear. They have POMEGRANATE. People in SA drink them everywhere and with anything. They mix it with their whiskey. They mix it with their wine. They drink it straight up. They probably serve it over ice cream or cook it inside of chickens (hey, we cook ours with a beer can).

We also discovered this amazing deli: Giovanni's. Well, not really, my coworker Bita told us about it, but It. Was. SO. Good. Seriously. We were there six days and I think we ate there at least three times. They basically have the biggest selection of ham ever, gourmet sides, dips and cheeses and wide selection of freshly baked bread (multigrain with toasted pumpkin seeds! toasty french loaf! homemade salty pretzel bread, holy cow!) Delicious breakfast goods goes without saying. Fortunately for us, it was basically right outside our door.

That, and the stadium. The place was nuts. At some points it was impossible to get from Point A to Point B, visible from Point A, without walking about 1/2 a mile out of your way and pushing the guy with the clown wig out of your path. There sure were some stellar costumes though. I think some people confused the World Cup with Halloween.

We spent some time driving (or, rather, Kraemer spent some time driving, since I am a pathetically incompetent individual and cannot drive stick, sorry!) up and down the coast, too. Took in beautiful Chapman's Peak, met with the penguins, had a run in with some baboons (but not nearly as close as another car, which had a pretty mean-looking 'boon pop a squat on the hood of their car) and peered over the meeting of the waters at Cape Point. We got a glimpse of the suburban beach town north of Cape Town with some sundowners at the Blue Peter (though next time? We'd stay in town and watch the sunset from the 12 Apostles. I write this for all of you who make the right choice and visit CT.)

As usual, food featured very highly in my adventure. We treated ourselves with a dinner at Aubergine, where we indulged in the degustation menu paired by a sommelier who visited our table between courses to describe his selection. We dined on tian of waterhog confit and crusoy potato, squid ink noodles with skate wing and calamari, the "cape sea harvest" (I can't remember what it was!), loin of lamb and aubergine, wizenberger puffs and dessert. And those aren't even the full descriptions. Uh huh. We also enjoyed a cookies and cream milkshake at Mr. Pickwick's (known for their shakes, that one in particular), some delicious salads and sandwiches at Frieda's, another fine dining experience at Savoy Cabbage and a thali (yay, how I missed you, my never-ending cheap lunch!) at Masala Dosa.

What we didn't do: Robben Island (our tour was canceled due to wind) or the open-top bus tours (both times we went to the office, all tours were off since roads were closed because the World Cup was in town). Plus probably another thing or two. ;)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Bandit

O Escondidinho

Taryn and I went to Ilha De Mozambique because everybody says its awesome. It was briefly the capital of Portuguese East Africa and, as you do when you're conquering foreign lands, you build a big-ass fort. The fort on Ilha de Mozambique is appropriately named the Fortaleza, which I translate to mean, The Big-Ass Fort. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which in my mind means that it has been recognized as of such significant cultural importance to the world that the United Nations will step in and insure that it will be here for our grandchildren to see. Apparently that is not the case and a lot of people I talked to on the island indicated that it might lose its designation. They didn't really seem to care as UNESCO hadn't really done anything to help the island.

The island is quite the dichotomy of cultures. The north is composed of stone houses built by the Portuguese and is appropriately named Stone Town (you have to like a town with a no bullshit naming convention). The southern half of the island is made up of a town of locals. Some of whom fish, but most of whom just hang out for the day in relative poverty.

But what a place to be poor. The beaches are beautiful, the weather is pretty darn nice because of the sea breeze, and there is a fair amount of tasty quality seafood. Apparently, this high-life of the do-nothingness has attracted quite a few people to the island (or convinced nobody to ever leave). The unsustainable overpopulation has lead to some bad outcomes, such as the inability of the island to support the amount of waste its inhabitants produce. Most of the locals grab a squat in the ocean, so it's not exactly a swimming beach. I kind of think having the gentle waves lapping at your feet during your morning movement sounds refreshing...until I realize your movement will also soon be lapping at your feet.

That said, Taryn and I stayed at an idyllic restored Portuguese house in Stone Town named O Escondidinho, which means the bandit. It was nice and peaceful and had one heck of a restaurant where we ate bolo chocolate (the best brownie in the country) and had a Lobster that was better than anything I've eaten in Maine.

We hit up the Palace, or governor’s residence, which is still decorated with colonial style furniture and gives you a pretty good idea of how everyone lived circa 1500. Apparently it was still in use around 1970 when the president sat on an antique bench and broke it. He declared on the spot that the place was becoming a museum.

In addition to the palace there was also a maritime museum that wasn't half bad. It had all of the regular stuff: cannons, swords, anchors and the like. But it also had a ton of Ming dynasty porcelain. Apparently a shipwreck nearby the island was carrying porcelain and in 2002 a Dutch archeologist team found the largest collection of porcelain ever. I thought that they did a pretty good job of donating some back to the island for the museum but according to the locals, they didn't do enough. I always think that unless the shipwreck contains something that's of "significant" cultural importance (like the lost crown of Botswana or some such) then finders, keepers.

The Fortelasia was also a huge slave trading port. They would put slaves in small boats and string them together forming a daisy chain of rowboats filled with slaves. I'm sure that a bit of the explanation was lost in translation but you essentially picked up a few slaves on your way out of the harbor and then set sail for Indonesia or some other little spice island. The guard also seemed to be quite proud of the execution site. I guess that's the part of the tour that elicits the most reaction, and on a sleepy little island town, about as much excitement as the guard expects.

Another strange happening on the island is the complete lack of fresh water wells. You would think that before you declare a place a capital you would at least get past Maslow's base level, but instead the Portuguese built all of the buildings to channel water into basement systems that are still used today (though the majority of water is piped in from the mainland).

On the way to the airport we passed a little village that was next to what use to be one of the largest soap manufacturers in Southern Africa. During the war it fell into disuse and disrepair and the locals put the scrap metal to good use, making it into roofing tiles.

When we were in the airport I came upon this wonderful window into the Mozambique psyche. For those of you who do not read Portuguese, the note says, "Be advised, Do not use this urinal"...it's difficult to read because someone pissed on it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Day on the Job

I love my office. Right now, I'm talking physical space. And that's right - I said office, not cube. Who knows the next time I’ll get an office, because goodness knows I don’t have one back in the wonderful world of Washington. And even here I better appreciate it while I can – these digs are temporary. Please see Exhibit A. One whole wall is basically a window, and I get a nice glimpse of the ocean - when the sun starts to set (and yes, I'm here when it does that since it sets so early), I can see it reflecting in the glass that separates my office from the rest of the room. Absolutely fabulous. See Exhibit B. Now, yes, the people. Even better than my view. I had the pleasure of meeting several of them when they flew into DC for the Worldwide Program Officer Conference I helped organize back in February. They were friendly then and just as much so now, checking on me throughout the day, showing me where to eat around the office, providing tips on how the heck to fit exercise in my schedule (given time and safety and transportation constraints), suggesting where to go on the weekends ... the list goes on.

Maybe more than anything what I like – oddly, I guess? – about my colleagues is how much some of them know about my personal life and how much I know about theirs. Basically as soon as I got here I had bacon on a Sunday morning with my boss and watched as her son stabbed his French toast and her daughter pranced around in her princess nightgown. I sat in the living room with another colleague and his wife and discussed their “naughty room” (it’s not what you think!) It’s a totally different scenario than what I have in Washington, and I love it.

Right, now so what do I actually do? At the risk of boring you all, I’ll give some of the details. And I’ll start by saying I really like it. Sure, I’m still doing some of the stuff no one really wants to do, like putting together the weekly bullets to send in to Washington, but I also get to do stuff that challenges me and exposes me to aspects of development in areas I knew little about. I’ve designed a water and sanitation activity and am now writing up a Request for Applications. I’m working with the Education Team to develop our brand new education portfolio. I’m writing scopes of work and hiring people. I’m consulting with implementing partners on their performance monitoring plans. I’m doing branding assessments and writing public relations pieces and, of course, I’m editing everything under the sun. I’m learning all the time.

What does this all mean? Maybe I was cut out for the Foreign Service after all. Really, though, I have really enjoyed my work here and exploring a new country – it’s just too darn far from home to make this a permanent situation. P.S. Sigh, although …. even the ride to work every morning is like being on vacation. See Exhibit C. ;)

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Hunkering down day in and day out in a cubicle in Washington generates a certain amount of separation from the reason you’re there, from the people you got into development to help. So in my MOU I’d negotiated one of my duties/responsibilities to be a site visit, where I could go to see for myself what USAID is doing. Honest to goodness, that’s all I wanted to see... Okay, with plans to tack on a trip at the end. A personal trip never happened, but what I got instead, and I am NOT complaining, was a USAID-funded trip to a national park. And for anyone concerned about their tax dollars, I promise I did work. No. Really.

Gorongosa has a pretty wild history. It’s Mozambique’s big success story, and everyone loves the place because of what its restoration means for how far the country has come since war. After Mozambique achieved independence and the Portuguese jumped ship, the party claiming power (FRELIMO – and they’re still in power) established itself as a communist government. This freaked out the surrounding countries, who started supporting the opposition group, RENAMO. RENAMO camped out anywhere they could, eventually attacking the park’s camp, kidnapping a couple of the staff. From that point on, the park closed and transformed into a battleground – you can still see where the shells
gutted the camp’s dormitories and offices.

Needless to say, this didn’t bode well for the wildlife. Besides becoming casualties of combat, the animals were hunted for their goods, which were sold in exchange for weapons, and for meat to feed both the soldiers and surrounding villagers, who the rebels kept from making a living or feeding themselves any other way. The zebras were completely wiped out. So were the lions. The buffalos, the elephants, the hippos.

Cue Greg Carr, a Michigan man. From what I understand, he made all his money as the creator of voice mail (not answering machines), and maybe SMS. He started the Greg Carr Foundation and invested heavily in the park, so much so that the foundation and the Gorongosa Restoration Project became one in the same. They’ve built a wildlife sanctuary, have reintroduced elephants from Kruger (see pic from a press release) and may have zebras from Zimbabwe in their future. They have invested in the surrounding community as well, which is key since though the war is long gone, there is still lots of poaching that goes on, not to mention cutting for timber and slashing and burning to clear land for cultivation.

While I was there I was checking up on their branding and marking, making sure the USAID brand was visible (we have a big issue with no one knowing who we are since we give the money but never get out there and actually implement the activities); helping them improve their monitoring and evaluation plan; and collecting information for “success stories,” which continually heightened my opinion of the work they’re accomplishing there. They are doing some pretty innovative stuff with waste management, including fashioning stylish sandals out of tire treads. And some of the community members are really getting on board, like this dude who grows saplings and donates them to schools for planting. Overall, awesome learning experience.

I stayed in a sweet little grass-roof chalet - sweet because it had hot running water, a comfy bed, open windows and cool, still nights. And it looked authentic. I met Andy, a TDYer in from Washington, who was ensuring proper inclusion of biodiversity into the reforestation project. I also got to meet Greg. He’s a pretty cool dude. Friendly, definitely ambitious, and clearly knows what he wants done and how. When he comes to the park he’s got lots of business to do and some bigwigs along for the trip, so they bring in a helicopter. They had it then, and I was promised a ride if they could fit me, which sadly never came to pass. Very admirable that they’re responsible with their funds, but I admit I was jumping up and down a little bit when I thought I was getting on.
The park is different from what you imagine an African safari park to be. It’s got a lot of brush and is a little more temperate than most, rain-forest like at times. Amazing bird life. I never thought I’d be into birds but these lilac-breasted rollers were brilliant. We saw some crocodiles, about nine kinds of antelope, baboons, monkeys, and a ton of warthogs. Not surprisingly given the numbers, no elephants and no lions, but I’m counting on those at Kruger. I asked about going running in the camp, and they recommended the nearby dilapidated football field for laps … followed by a warning that they’d discovered fresh lion tracks. Um, no thanks. I want to stay alive more than I want to stay in shape.